Penn State's Barnes vows to work harder
Deion Barnes won't sugarcoat his evaluation of his performance during the first half of Penn State's football season.
"I would say I'm my biggest critic," said Barnes, the Nittany Lions' redshirt sophomore defensive end from Philadelphia. "If I know I didn't play the way where I think I should be at, I won't feel good. And I haven't been feeling good all season.
"I don't feel like I'm playing where I should be at, so I'm definitely putting a lot of pressure on myself. I want to be something, and if you want to be something, you can't settle for what I'm doing right now."
It might sound as if Barnes, a former star at Northeast High School, is worried about why the game isn't as easy as it seemed last season, when he took the Big Ten Conference by storm with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss and won conference freshman-of-the-year honors. In the first half of the 2013 season, he has recorded one-half of a sack and two tackles for loss.
But in another breath, Barnes dismissed a suggestion that his play has him in a funk. To him, any imperfections from earlier this season are nothing that a little hard work can't fix, and Barnes is not afraid of hard work.
"It's not like I'm going through a death in the family," he said. "I'm not hanging my head and feeling like I can't do nothing right. I'm coming to practice and working hard. There's not too many people feeling bad for me, or they feel like I'm not doing what I'm supposed to do.
"Things aren't falling into my hands right now, so I'm just working harder. I'm definitely trying to find different ways I can improve myself and try to help the team out."
Barnes' high school coach, Chris Riley, has no doubt that his former player will find those ways, perhaps starting Saturday night when the Nittany Lions play at No. 4 Ohio State.
"No one is going to outwork him," said Riley, now the athletic director at Northeast. "His work ethic is fantastic and he's going to push to get better. He is very self-motivated. He's always asking questions: 'How can I do this better?' He's going to up his play to another level because of his work ethic."
Barnes also is good at perseverance. It's what got him out of bed every morning at 5:30 at his home near 13th and Erie, riding SEPTA for an hour to high school, then returning late after practice.
Barnes was introduced to football by his father, Robert Barnes, a former all-Public League player at Olney High, whom he speaks with often.
"He watches the games and he tells me certain things," Deion Barnes said. "It's great to know that he's there. He's not always going to tell me good things, but he's going to make sure I'm trying to get better."
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Barnes has been a target since the start of 2013 as opposing offenses tailor their pass-blocking schemes to keep him away from their quarterbacks. He has seen double-teams and felt chip blocks from running backs designed to slow him down.
In addition, the teams that had the most success through the air against Penn State - Central Florida and Indiana - used an approach in which the quarterback threw the ball quickly.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has answered all questions related to Barnes by saying, "I'm glad he's on my team." However, O'Brien started redshirt sophomore Anthony Zettel in front of Barnes in the Lions' last game against Michigan, although Barnes, who had started the previous five games, saw plenty of action in the four-overtime thriller.
O'Brien did not say who would start at Ohio State but said Barnes would be part of a rotation of defensive linemen against the Buckeyes' spread offense piloted by the dangerous Braxton Miller.
"I've said this a bunch of times this year: I think Deion is playing fine," O'Brien said. "I think there's other guys that are playing well, too. . . . I don't look at it as Deion coming off the bench. I just look at it as Deion being a good team player and rotating in there and fulfilling his role when he's in there."
That's what Barnes plans to do.
"I'm going to keep working," he said, "and I'm going to go out there and have fun and do the things I know I can do."